A Pause in the Resurgence of St. George, Staten Island
In the brightest moments of the building boom, St. George was set to cast aside its reputation as a forlorn neighborhood of government buildings and shops clustered around the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. It was being primped to become a place where young families from Manhattan would flock for affordable space.
So the makeover began: Government agencies spent $160 million to revive the waterfront in the past decade, welcomed a 9/11 memorial in 2004 and completed the restoration of the ferry terminal in 2005, according to the office of the Staten Island borough president, James P. Molinaro. Developers rushed in with plans to build nearly 1,000 new condos. In October, the Department of City Planning approved a rezoning plan to encourage development of more shops and condos.
But amid the recession, the transformation has come to a standstill: Condo units sit unfinished. Local agencies have laid off workers. Shop and restaurant owners in the neighborhood are suffering.
Karl Reina, 49, of Karl’s Klipper restaurant, just steps from the terminal, benefited from the first glimpses of the neighborhood’s turnaround. When he opened five years ago, he catered to local office workers and tourists who stepped off the Staten Island ferry looking for drinks and dinner.
Furman Center Data » But Mr. Reina said business dropped by 15 percent over the past two years, mainly because locals are spending less on meals or not eating out at all. Some families have stopped holding events like first communions at restaurants and instead are staying home. Then there are the hundreds of customers he thought he would have welcomed if more condos had been completed. He talked about the neighborhood’s troubles in a recent interview.
Q. What signs have you noticed that the neighborhood has suffered?
A. Places are going out of business. There have been some layoffs. Some of my bar patrons are out of work. Three years ago, we used to do a lot more business.
Q. Who is most careful about spending?
A. The office workers are cost-conscious. They’ll have a bowl of soup for lunch and crusty bread. They really cut back on the drinks. It’s a lot of Diet Coke and water.”
Q. What have you done to draw local customers who have less to spend?
A. I just changed my special board. I keep it cost-minded. Today I have a chicken meatloaf sandwich with macaroni and cheese for $6.50. I try to get in one special a day.
Q. What part of your business has remained strong?
A. I’m lucky to have tourists. Some people stay for one cup of coffee. Some people for seven, eight beers. It depends on what country you’re from. I’ve had numerous people come back a year later. An Australian couple came back for our baby back ribs.
Q. Can you understand why diners are so worried about spending?
A. I myself have been spoiled, working in a kitchen my whole life. If I had to eat out every day, I would be conscious of it, too. You can’t spend $15 a day — times five.”
New York on Less is a new weekly City Room feature about coping with the recession. We will be posting reader questions on selected topics and profiling how neighborhoods are doing. Please share your thoughts on today’s question in the comments box below.
For more coverage on the human side of the recession, visit the Living With Less guide, where readers can share their photos, moods, and tips for weathering the economic downturn.
By Christine Haughney
New York Times